Rizzo has risen from the sewers to the stars. After more than 10 years with the Muppets, one can safely say that Rizzo is one of the most famous rats in the world (not that there are all that many famous rats in the world).
Originally from the sewers of Brooklyn, Rizzo knew at an early age that show business would become his life when his family took him to the Passaic premiere of Willard. “I saw all dose rats on da big screen and thought to myself, hey, I can do dat,” says Rizzo. “Besides — rats are the only ones who actually enjoy studio commissary food.”
For several years, Rizzo traveled from theater to theater, waiting in the wings (and the back of the kitchen) for his big break. When he arrived at The Muppet Show in 1980, he knew this was the place to be. It was here where Rizzo was ‘discovered’ by Kermit the Frog. “It’s not like we were actively looking for rats,” remembers Kermit. “It was just cheaper to hire him than to call an exterminator.”
Rizzo worked his way up with the Muppets (“When you’re a rat, there’s no place to go but up, says Rizzo”), first working backstage, then eventually appearing in sketches and musical numbers. He made his film debut in The Great Muppet Caper and was featured with several of his rat friends in The Muppets Take Manhattan.
With The Muppet Christmas Carol, Rizzo took on his first major role alongside The Great Gonzo™ as narrator of the story. Rizzo was also in feature films, Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets from Space and the ABC primetime series Muppets Tonight. Most recently, Rizzo was hired by his friend Gonzo to be a writer on the syndicated talk show Up Late with Miss Piggy.
In spite of his celebrity status, Rizzo vows not to let fame affect him. He does, however, see some advantages. “For years as a struggling actor, I’ve eaten in alleys behind some of the dumpiest delis around,” says Rizzo. “Now, I get ta’ eat behind some real nice places.”
Will he ever become tired of being recognized on the streets? “When you travel in the sewers,” he says, “you’d be surprised how few people recognize you.”